With the ability to train hard skills, some organisations are lookingÂ for hires that align to values and culture instead.
By Simon Kent
Skill shortages abound across many sectors of EMEAÂ business. Problem areas are no longer confinedÂ to specialist roles or niche industries. EmployersÂ everywhere are facing a candidate-driven marketÂ where competition for talent is already high andÂ increasing. In the face of this, employers are nowÂ looking to secure employees with good soft skills withÂ the intention of bringing their technical skills up toÂ speed once in place. In fact, LinkedInâs 2019 GlobalÂ Talent Trends report found that 92 per cent of U.K.Â businesses report that soft skills are now as importantÂ or more important than hard skills.
Debi Bell, head of HR services at wastewater utilitiesÂ solution provider Lanes Group, reports facingÂ challenges recruiting workers with manual technicalÂ skills in the companyâs sector. Roles such as HGVÂ drivers are hard to fill with operatives now able toÂ shop around for jobs. Bell says an ageing workforceÂ exacerbates the challenge since younger talent seemsÂ less attracted to the work.
âThere are only so many experienced drainageÂ engineers or HGV drivers,â says Bell, âso we have hadÂ to change our recruitment process and spend moreÂ resources on training than ever before.â
The company now trains HGV drivers and CCTVÂ engineers. Whilst the business finds some of the talentÂ it invests in subsequently leaves, it does re-employÂ peopleâa facet of the nomadic nature of the sector.
Even with the training solution Lanes Group offers, BellÂ is clear that the scenario could be improved if trainingÂ further addressed new talent for the industry. âMyÂ ideal situation would be to have a training academy ofÂ sorts so we can train up people who have no previousÂ experience of drainage,â she says.
Ewen MacPherson is in a different boat. âWhilst weÂ have not experienced difficulties recruiting technicallyÂ proficient talent due to scarcity, we have due toÂ competition,â says the HR director of Havas Media Group. âThe pressure to attract and retain top talentÂ is sharpening as the media landscape becomes moreÂ competitive.â
For MacPherson, the need for talent means theÂ business has had to address how it recruits and hasÂ brought an additional focus to internal successionÂ planning and the pipelining of junior and entry-levelÂ talent through internships and apprenticeships.Â Facilitating this kind of career path naturally involvesÂ training on the technical side of the industry.
âAnother consideration is for the generations of futureÂ talent that are only just entering the market or willÂ do in the next five years,â adds MacPherson. âMost ofÂ these people will be doing jobs that donât exist yet, soÂ they have to be recruited based on soft skills. For theseÂ future employees, soft skills will be arguably moreÂ important tooâcreativity, resilience, critical thinking,Â emotional intelligenceâthese are the traits that willÂ give employees the edge in the context of all thisÂ change.â
MacPhersonâs eye on the future is shared by PaulÂ Hargreaves, author of âForces for Goodâ and directorÂ at U.K.-based SME wholesale food distributors,Â Cotswold Fayre. Rather than considering the skill set ofÂ the future workforce, however, he is more concernedÂ that his new employees will support the business withÂ whatever they end up doing. âIt is tempting to makeÂ life easier and just fill skills gaps,â he says, âbut whilstÂ this is easier in the short term, it will make your lifeÂ more difficult in the long term. More recently, weÂ look to character. Yes, they need to have some degreeÂ of talent within the area of the company we areÂ recruiting for, but far better that they are aligned withÂ our values rather than an exact fit to our skills gap.â
A focus on soft skills may in theory openÂ organisations to a wider talent pool, but it is clearÂ it doesnât make the recruitment process particularlyÂ easier. âSoft skills are not only harder to recruitÂ for, but they are harder to identify during theÂ recruitment process,â says Michael Brown, digitalÂ learning manager at Vanquis Bank. âThe traditionalÂ interviews and whatever competency checks orÂ assessments are done are usually around experienceÂ and knowledge. Itâs often difficult to measure andÂ improve soft skills until you know someone a bitÂ better.â
Hargreaves agrees. âCharacter match is harder toÂ find on paper so it may be that there are moreÂ interviews, albeit shorter ones, as the right characterÂ is fairly easy to spot by my management team and IÂ within a few minutes of an interview.â
As Hargreaves notes, some businesses have taken theÂ need for a good character fit even further, like U.S.Â tech company Zappos, where new employees take aÂ two-week induction course on the companyâs values.Â After this, the new recruits are offered $5,000 toÂ leave the company if they do not believe in thoseÂ values.
It should also be noted that whilst organisationsÂ are concerned with training their new entrants inÂ the technical side of the business, soft skills are alsoÂ being targeted for improvement. Technology canÂ help. The e-learning platform from GoodHabitz hasÂ been designed to help improve soft skills across theÂ whole organisation. âWe are always looking to helpÂ people develop skills further,â says Vanquis BankâsÂ Brown. âIn my previous role, we worked closely onÂ providing face-to-face training for the business andÂ we had large scale projects in our call centre onÂ improving soft skills. It wasnât because people hadÂ poor soft skills, but because we knew there wereÂ other techniques we could use to enhance what theyÂ could do and further improve.â
For many companies, regardless of sector, deliveringÂ a competitive edge now means delivering anÂ exceptional customer experience. Training employeesÂ to secure the hard skills required to do the jobÂ properly is a necessity, but investing in soft skills isÂ becoming increasingly important for businesses thatÂ truly want to thrive.